As Obama vs. Romney Heads to Homestretch, Campaigns Get Hyperlocal

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Election 2012With just seven weeks remaining until Election Day, it’s seeming clear that the ballots of specific swing voters in specific neighborhoods in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and other battleground states could once again decide the presidency. Recent polls show the two candidates neck-and-neck in several states, and campaigns, super PACs and other interest groups are employing geographically targeted political ad platforms more than ever before to reach the hyperlocal voter.

Arun Krishnan, CMO of Pontiflex, told Street Fight the mobile ad provider initially projected about 40% of its political ad revenue from this election season would come via mobile as opposed to online, but now that number’s already at 81%. And many clients, Krishnan says, are insisting that the company evolve as a mobile company to help them target hyperlocal voters.

For Pontiflex’s customers, such as the Obama campaign, the Republican National Committee and several Republican super PACs, the concept is simple. A few hundred votes in the solid blue California means little to the Obama campaign, but in Florida, that could be enough to swing 29 electoral votes (and perhaps the election) in favor of the incumbent. Meanwhile, in liberal parts of the country, like San Francisco, geo-targeting based on zip code can help bring in more donations and volunteers.

Pontiflex uses hyperlocal in-app signup ads, asking users to voluntarily submit their name, email address, phone number and zip code to hear more from a particular party, candidate or cause. Rather than run a local TV ad only narrowed in its reach by the coverage area, campaigns are guaranteed engaged eyeballs. And these ads usually run from $1 – $1.50 per swing state signup, according to a Pontiflex study released in May.

Jordan Lieberman, the managing director of data driven marketer Campaign Grid, said that the acceptance of the effectiveness of hyperlocally targeted campaign messaging was “seeing a tipping point.” He offered this example: take Ithaca, N.Y., a small-to-medium sized college town in Central N.Y. There are 25,964 registered voters in the 14850 zip code, but only 14,489 vote consistently in general elections. “Hyperlocal is as good as sticking a billboard on the correct side of a state highway,” Lieberman says, “and that’s not close enough for most of our clients.”

Political ad spend is projected to reach $5.2 billion this year, according to Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker, with local, network and cable TV expected to be served the largest piece of pie ($3.37 billion). Ryvicker only projects $311 million, or 6%, for digital, up from $188 million in 2008, and an even smaller slice for mobile. Borrell Associates, meanwhile, predicted earlier this year that the 2012 election would drive $9.8 billion in ads.

While mobile and digital seem poised to take a small slice of the pie, it’s becoming clear that if a campaign wants to win a 2012 race, it needs to engage voters on these new platforms. “If we don’t hit them on their mobile phones,” Romney’s digital director Zac Moffatt said in a May press release issued by Pontiflex, “we’re missing a huge opportunity for people who are voters.”

Pontiflex, Krishnan says, is seeing a surge in Republican ad spend, fueled mostly by super PACs, in swing states, with about 60% of all ad spend devoted to Obama-Romney and 40% to other races.

Patrick Duprey is an editorial assistant with Street Fight.

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